• Loading

Eyewitness: community spirit during the toughest of times

As the fierce winds rumbled and Melvin Veterra’s home started to sway, the stark reality hit.

  • It was the first time I actually thought I would die,'

Melvin, a father and husband whose life got turned upside down following Typhoon Haiyan

‘It was the first time I actually thought I would die,’ Melvin recalls. ‘We are used to typhoons but we never thought it would be so strong.’

Melvin left home and ran for his life, dodging falling coconut trees and flying sheets of metal. Moments later, his family home was flattened.

Melvin’s wife Marilou and children had already sought refuge nearby.

Huddled together

Huddled together, with her four children, Marilou wondered if she’d ever see her husband again. As the storm raged outside, her fears grew. Thankfully, Melvin eventually escaped to his family.

Marilou still thinks about that night. She struggles to sleep when it rains.

In the aftermath, they salvaged what they could, but most of their belongings were ruined.

‘The children were crying out in hunger,’ recalls Marilou.


Following the typhoon our local partner Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) distributed more than 8,100 relief packs.

Melvin continues, ‘Other than the government, Christian Aid was the first to help us.’

Alongside meeting the emergency needs of the hardest hit households in Leyte, thanks to our partner ATM, 900 of the most vulnerable people, such as Marilou, took part in cash for work projects.

For many families faced with rising food prices and with no savings to fall back on, cash for work was a lifeline.

Communal garden

Together with her neighbours, Marilou cleared fallen trees and rubble and helped prepare a piece of land for growing vegetables.

Since Haiyan hit, this communal garden has become a valuable source of food for the families and helped create a sense of community spirit during the toughest of times.

Although not a long-term solution, cash for work helps households to meet their needs - whether that’s fixing a boat, buying seeds to grow new crops or replacing a damaged roof.

And it also helps stimulate the local economy and in turn keeps local traders in business.

Seeds and organic farming

Melvin was given seeds to replace those lost during the typhoon and was among 250 community members who received training in organic farming.

‘We could start growing vegetables again,’ explains Melvin. ‘It is expensive buying new seeds. We sold the harvest to pay for kerosene, salt, fish and other household items.’

‘We used to use chemicals but now we use organic fertilisers. It saves us money, it’s much cheaper. It’s healthier too,’ he adds.

School supplies

Thanks to ATM, 1,745 school children in Leyte received supplies including bags, notebooks and pens.

Marilou and Melvin’s nine-year-old Liza Mae said: ‘We were given a bag by Christian Aid. I’ve never had a school bag before. We also received a notebook and crayons. I was so excited and happy to receive them.’

Find out more 

Our report The rich, the poor and the future of the Earth highlights that the threats from climate change, which has been caused by the wealthiest 20 per cent, is pushing people and ecosystems across the globe to be more vulnerable to extreme and unpredictable weather.

Podcast: Yeb Sano, climate change commissioner for the Philippines, says we have a moral duty to protect the planet for the generations to come.

More Eyewitness stories



Emergencies fund

Help us react quickly to emergencies, saving lives and rebuilding communities.

GB Pounds (GBP)

Sign up for emails

Follow us on Facebook and TwitterLike Christian Aid on FacebookFollow us on Twitter